The AEPB arrests and prosecutes street traders.
Ogechi Ekeanyanwu with agency report
With biting economic situations in the country, men and women – young, middle aged and old- mount rickety tables at small street sides to scrape a living.
A rough survey of these street traders in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, shows that they would rather be gainfully employed, or have decent shops than trade on the street.
A lot of them say street trading is their only means of making an honest living. Many say they resorted to street hawking because they cannot afford the high cost of renting shops.
But the authorities will have none of these reasons.
Frequently, the street hawkers are harassed and sometimes manhandled by men of Abuja Environmental Protection Board, AEPB.
The scenario is almost warfare like.
An observer can in one minute, see the traders selling their goods to consumers, who often buy from the roadside traders because it saves them the stress of going to a regular market; and in another minute, see a convoy of cars speed violently to the stalls of the traders, with the occupants- men of the AEPB- jumping out of their vehicles and destroying the items that are for sale.
They shove the goods off the display tables and break the tables, while armed security officials are seen at the background as though the road side traders threaten the sovereignty of the nation.
The traders scamper with what they can salvage of their goods, to anywhere they deem safe. They say if they had suitable, inexpensive alternatives, such as the gardens around the market in the Federal Capital Territory, they would go off the streets.
A street hawker, Baba Yusuf, said: “I am speaking the minds of many hawkers selling around here; if we are given these gardens which are not being used, we will keep them clean and safe.
“We are not outlaws but we don’t have where to sell our goods; we cannot afford shop rents inside the market and must make ends meet so we just have to hawk around the streets.
“f these places mentioned can be given to us or an alternative place, we will surely move out of the streets,” he said.
A trader in the market agreed with the street traders.
“So many things should be put in place to check the menace of street trading; jobs should be provided to reduce this street trading and before you take away what one has, you should provide an alternative.
“To be frank seeing people trade in the street is disgusting but what you do when you don’t have any means to earn a living, you rather engage in trading than turn a beggar,” he said.
The AEPB is, however, disgusted with street trading and will hear none of the reasons above.
The Head of Information and Outreach Programmes of the board, Joe Ukairo, said in Abuja on Thursday, that these activities constitute a menace and would not be allowed.
Mr. Ukairo said “there is no sentiment; street begging, trading and prostitution are prohibited under the AEPB Act of 1997 Section 35.”
“These are social menace; the Social Development Secretariat has done so much trying to rehabilitate the commercial sex workers and beggars.
“We arrest and prosecute them and hand them over to the Society Against Prostitution and Child Labour, which takes them to the rehabilitation centres,” he said.
The street traders seem unwilling to yield. After each raid, they would return to the streets preferring the risk of their trade than die from poverty.